U.S. Senate candidates Paul S. Sarbanes and Bill Brock have made their respective ties to Maryland a strong campaign theme this fall, yet both are relying heavily on money from outside the state.
Fund-raising records show that of the $1.7 million Mr. Sarbanes had raised by late August, at least 38 percent came from political action committees, which make donations for special interest groups -- usually from other states.
Moreover, out-of-state money accounted for nearly three quarters of the contributions from individuals listed by the Sarbanes campaign. The Democratic incumbent has the sixth highest percentage of out-of-state individual contributions among major Senate candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit research group in Washington.
Like many underdog challengers, Mr. Brock has raised only 7 percent of his contributions from PACs, which generally bank on incumbents. But the majority of the Republican nominee's money from individual contributors -- 54 percent -- has come from beyond Maryland.
Independent observers find nothing particularly sinister or unusual about raising large sums from people out of state. Public interest groups, however, are critical of heavy reliance on PACs. They point out that special interest groups give money to maintain strong political access that average citizens don't enjoy.
In mid-summer, Mr. Sarbanes ranked 22ndin gross PAC contributions among all Senate candidates, according to the Federal Election Commission. By late August, he had raised more than $600,000 from PACs.
The senator has always been a favorite of big labor. His position on the banking committee, though, has attracted large contributions in the past two years from several dozen banking, insurance and financial companies.
If the Democrats retain their majority in the Senate this November and Mr. Sarbanes returns, he is expected to become the next committee chairman.
Predictably, political action committees for companies such as NationsBank, Allstate, Chemical Bank, Citicorp and Merrill Lynch Co. have donated thousands of dollars to show their support.
"Senator Sarbanes has always been a champion of consumer rights in the U.S. Senate . . . but this is clearly a brazen attempt by special interest PACs to buy influence with the potential chairman," said Dan Pontious, executive director of the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit consumer and environmental organization.
The Sarbanes' camp makes no apologies for accepting PAC money.
Michael Davis, Mr. Sarbanes' campaign manager, said any concerns about undue influence are silly. He pointed out that the campaign receives large amounts of money from both business and labor, which often are at odds on issues.
He also noted that, when it comes to money, Mr. Brock has an inherent advantage. The former Tennessee senator is a multi-millionaire heir to a candy fortune and can run a competitive race out of his own pocket.
"If he decides to spend $2 million tomorrow . . . he can simply pick up a pen and write a check," Mr. Davis said.
Given Maryland's relatively small size and limited financial resources, it is not unusual for Senate campaigns here to rely heavily on contributions from people who live elsewhere.
The two candidates' success in this area reflects their national political followings and extended constituencies.
Mr. Sarbanes, the son of Greek immigrants, has traditionally raised tens of thousands of dollars from Greek-American professionals in major cities across the country. Sections of the Democrat's California donor list read like the Athens phone book. As the first Greek-American elected to the U.S. Senate, he has long been a source of ethnic pride.
Mr. Brock, who was a cabinet member in the Reagan administration, has relied to some degree on his friendships with GOP elites.
His donors include well-heeled Republicans such as former Delaware Gov. Pierre S. DuPont IV ($1,000), former Secretary of State James A. Baker III ($250) and former Presidential Chief of Staff John H. Sununu ($250).
As of Aug. 24, Mr. Sarbanes had raised $196,000 from individual contributors in Maryland, while Mr. Brock had raised $337,000.
Mr. Brock had amassed a total of $1.3 million, but it included nearly $500,000 of his own money.
The race is expected to cost a total of about $5 million.
Mr. Davis said his candidate has not raised more money here because the contested Democratic gubernatorial primary and other races have taxed Maryland's limited resources.
M.J. Jameson, of the Brock campaign, said her candidate's better showing in the state was due to an extensive network of small donors that represents strong grass-roots support.
"This shows a support out there within the electorate . . . that's not reflected in polls," she said.
The most recent statewide poll, conducted last month, showed Mr. Sarbanes with 56 percent of the vote and Mr. Brock with 33 percent. The election is Nov. 8.